The first professor of Irish history at Queen’s University, Belfast.
The renowned Irish historian and writer James Camlin Beckett was the first professor of Irish history at Queen’s University, Belfast, from 1958 to 1975. Educated at the Royal Belfast Academical Institution and Queen’s, where he turned from studying English to history, Beckett became a teacher of history at the Royal Belfast Academy on the Cavehill Road. After the second world war, Beckett was offered a post at Queen’s and began his writing career.
At the forefront of the ‘new history’ pioneered by TW Moody, Beckett was instrumental in raising standards of historical research in Queen’s and throughout Northern Ireland. Originally a scholar of the eighteenth century, Beckett broadened his research, culminating in the publication of his defining masterpiece, The Making of Modern Ireland in 1966. Described as the ‘safest and fairest guide through the Irish political jungle’, The Making of Modern Ireland is to this day a required text for all students of Irish history. It has avoided the usual denunciations that have marred other works primarily due to Beckett’s fair minded accuracy.
An active member of the Church of Ireland, JC Beckett was a parishioner of St Thomas’s on the Lisburn Road. He is best remembered by his pupil and colleague, ATQ Stewart: ‘Beckett brought to Irish historical research a mind which was methodical, incisive, analytical and just, undeflected by personal or tribal prejudice’. He died in 1996.